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Division of Cancer Therapeutics

The Division of Cancer Therapeutics, housing the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit, has an unrivalled track record at discovering novel cancer treatments and biomarkers. Its work has made The Institute of Cancer Research, London, the world’s most successful academic centre at discovering new cancer drugs.

ICR scientists working in the lab

The division aims to exploit the vulnerabilities of cancer cells by discovering novel and innovative small-molecule drugs for the personalised treatment of cancer. The division also develops biomarkers designed to confirm the effectiveness of molecularly targeted therapies, and help doctors to determine which therapy will benefit each patient.

The division brings together a wide variety of disciplines, including cell and molecular biology, pharmacology, tumour modelling, computational and structural biology, and medicinal chemistry, in order to select promising drug targets, design effective prototype drugs and biomarkers, and develop strategies to counter drug resistance.

The ICR’s track record in therapeutics includes the discovery of carboplatin – still the global standard of care for patients with a wide range of solid tumours – and abiraterone, approved by NICE in 2012 for use in advanced prostate cancer. Since 2005, the ICR has discovered 20 preclinical drug candidates, and taken nine new drugs into clinical trials. One of those was abiraterone, approved by NICE in 2012 to treat advanced prostate cancer.

A priority for the Division of Cancer Therapeutics is to tackle the challenge of tumour heterogeneity, cancer evolution and resistance to drug treatments. It has pursued the discovery and development of HSP90 inhibitors, as one way of preventing or overcoming drug resistance. The division is also interested in ways of planning drug regimens or combinations to avoid or overcome resistance.

Scientists in the division have also created CanSAR, a powerful and freely available online cancer knowledgebase, designed to support cancer research and drug discovery. ICR scientists have used CanSAR to integrate complex biological, chemical and pharmacological data to identify 46 previously overlooked but potentially 'druggable' cancer targets.

The research output of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit and the Drug Development Unit received the American Association for Cancer Research’s 6th Team Science Award in 2012. The AACR citation for this prestigious award said: “This team’s research is an outstanding example of how innovative cancer research conducted by a highly functioning translational team can start with biologic hypotheses and ultimately lead to much-needed cancer therapeutics.”

In December 2015, the ICR was presented with the British Pharmacological Society’s UK Pharmacology on the Map award for institutions that have made a significant contribution to improving human health through drug discovery and pharmacology research.

Head of Division

Professor Rajesh Chopra

Professor Rajesh Chopra

Professor Rajesh Chopra is an experienced scientist and clinical leader who has discovered and developed novel cancer therapies, including molecularly targeted and cellular approaches. He is Head of the Division of Cancer Therapeutics and Director of the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Unit, and his main areas of expertise are in haematological oncology, solid tumour biology, transplantation and cell therapies.

Research teams

Clinical Pharmacology & Trials (including Drug Metabolism and Pharmacokinetics Group)

Team leader: Dr Udai Banerji

Dr Udai Banerji’s Clinical Pharmacology and Trials Team conducts early investigations of new anticancer agents developed in the Cancer Research UK Cancer Therapeutics Centre.

Computational Biology and Chemogenomics

Team leader: Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani

Dr Bissan Al-Lazikani’s team develops computational tools to help cancer drug discovery efforts process the large amounts of data obtained through biomedical research.

Drug Target Discovery

Team leader: Professor Spiros Linardopoulos

Dr Spiros Linardopoulos’ Cancer Drug Target Discovery Laboratory carries out basic biological research to identify gene targets and patients who would benefit from specific treatments, before developing anticancer drugs to treat these subgroups.

Gene and Oncogene Targeting

Team leader: Professor Caroline Springer

Professor Caroline Springer’s Gene and Oncogene Targeting Team of biochemists, chemists and pharmacologists uses medicinal chemistry to develop new cancer therapies.

Glioma

Team leader: Professor Chris Jones

Dr Chris Jones’ Glioma Team investigates ways to translate basic molecular pathology findings into improved clinical outcomes for children with cancer.

Hit Discovery and Structural Design

Team leader: Dr Rob van Montfort

Dr Rob van Montfort’s Hit Discovery & Structural Design Team uses screening techniques to narrow down the number of potential molecules to take forward into drug development.

Medicinal Chemistry 1 (including Analytical Chemistry and In Silico Chemistry)

Team leader: Professor Julian Blagg

Professor Julian Blagg’s Medicinal Chemistry 1 Team focuses on the design and synthesis of safe and effective drugs for the treatment of cancer.

Medicinal Chemistry 2

Team leader: Professor Ian Collins

Professor Ian Collins’ Medicinal Chemistry 2 Team searches for new molecules that inhibit the activity of proteins responsible for the development and progression of cancer.

Medicinal Chemistry 3

Team leader: Professor Keith Jones

Professor Keith Jones’ Medicinal Chemistry 3 Team is investigating the use of drugs that can selectively kill cancer cells by inhibiting the biochemical pathways that drive particular cancers.

Medicinal Chemistry 4

Team leader: Dr Swen Hoelder

Dr Swen Hoelder’s Medicinal Chemistry 4 Team designs and then synthesises molecules that could be used as cancer drugs.

Medicine (de Bono) Drug Development Unit

Team leader: Professor Johann de Bono

Professor Johann de Bono's Drug Development Unit is responsible for early clinical trials of novel cancer drugs.

Molecular Addictions

Team leader: Dr Igor Vivanco

Dr Igor Vivanco’s Molecular Addictions Team is studying the interplay between metabolism and cancer cell signalling, with the potential for developing therapies that target these interactions.

Molecular Drug Resistance

Team leader: Dr Steven Whittaker

Dr Steven Whittaker’s Molecular Drug Resistance Team uses in vitro techniques and genome screening to identify genetic mutations that either promote resistance or induce sensitivity to a particular drug.

Paediatric Solid Tumour Biology and Therapeutics

Team leader: Professor Louis Chesler

Dr Louis Chesler’s Paediatric Tumour Biology Team is investigating the genetic causes for the childhood cancers, neuroblastoma, medulloblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma.

Preclinical Molecular Imaging

Team leader: Dr Gabriela Kramer-Marek

Dr Gabriela Kramer-Marek’s Preclinical Molecular Imaging Team uses cutting-edge biomedical imaging techniques to gain information about the way particular genes drive cancer progression.

Prostate Cancer

Team leader: Professor Johann de Bono

Professor Johann de Bono’s Prostate Cancer Team team investigates new molecular targeted therapies to improve the treatment of patients with advanced prostate cancer.

Sarcoma Molecular Pathology

Team leader: Professor Janet Shipley

Professor Janet Shipley’s Sarcoma Molecular Biology Team is investigating ways to improve the treatment of patients with soft tissue sarcomas associated with poor clinical outcome.

Signal Transduction and Molecular Pharmacology

Team leader: Professor Paul Workman

Professor Paul Workman’s Signal Transduction and Molecular Pharmacology Team focuses on the mechanisms of molecular cancer therapies.

Target Discovery and Apoptosis

Team leader: Professor Spiros Linardopoulos

Dr Spiros Linardopoulos’ Target Discovery Laboratory carries out basic biological research to identify gene targets and patients who would benefit from specific treatments, before developing anticancer drugs to treat these subgroups.

Target Evaluation and Molecular Therapeutics

Team leader: Dr Olivia Rossanese

Dr Olivia Rossanese’s Target Evaluation and Molecular Therapeutics Team is investigating new targets to support the discovery of novel therapeutics to treat cancer. The team is also defining the molecular and genetic factors governing a cancer’s sensitivity to treatment with new drugs, to guide their clinical use.

Translational Cancer Discovery

Team leader: Professor Rajesh Chopra

Professor Raj Chopra's team focuses on the discovery of novel small molecules that target difficult to drug proteins; development of 3-D organotypic models of cancer for drug discovery; and the development small molecules for immunomodulation with a focus on antigen presentation.

Tumour Biology and Metastasis

Team leader: Professor Sue Eccles

Professor Sue Eccles’ Tumour Biology and Metastasis Team focuses on the cellular processes involved in invasion and metastasis of various cancers, including glimoa, prostate, and head and neck cancer.

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